Do you have a great product or service that just won’t sell?

No matter how hard you try, how many potential customers you visit, how much you advertise – it just doesn’t sell.

The worst? You know it should sell, because it’s that good an offering. It’s better than the competition. The price is low, the quality right, the benefits obvious. And yet nobody buys.

Interesting marketing challenge, isn’t it?

Why does this happen?

Rest assured, your’e not alone. Big companies also have this problem.

The failed Microsoft tab

When I arrived in Johannesburg, Microsoft had just launched their Microsoft Tablet PC in 2002. It was years before the iPad; offered portable computing, a stylus to write with, a coolness factor, the power of Windows in an era where Windows was still all the rage. A great product from a reputable company. And it didn’t sell.

So what’s going on?

Here’s my view:

Customers don’t buy products, nor services. They buy solutions to problems. Whomever most accurately identify the problem in the language of the customer will make the sale.

In the case of the Microsoft Tablet, it struggled to sell because of the software. According to this article the issue was that the Windows software was at its core always supposed to be used with a mouse and a keyboard. This meant that sticking it onto a tablet did not actually provide a usable hand-held solution. You still needed tools to effectively operate the tablet, i.e. a stylus, that acted as a proxy for the mouse, and even a clip-on keyboard. In effect, it quickly became just another laptop and not a true hand-held computing solution. It didn’t solve the problem.

In April 2010, 8 years after the Microsoft Tablet, the iPad overcame this by allowing you to use your fingers to operate the system. A true handheld solution.


So it’s about selling solutions. Real solutions to real customer problems.

You see, contrary to popular belief, it is not the sales persons job to sell the product but rather to highlight the problem and let the solution sell itself.

If you have framed the problem accurately as perceived by the customer, selling the solution becomes so easy it’s like printing money – just ask Apple.

The critical role of Marketing

It sounds simple, and yet so many entrepreneurs struggle with this concept of solving problems instead of selling products. The reason behind this provides the backbone for marketing as a subject and as a business function. Marketing is the science of becoming customer obsessed. It is about taking the focus away from yourself and turn it towards the customer.

You need to become absolutely, totally, extremely customer obsessed. It’s not about your product, your service, your idea or your sales pitch but about the customer; their problem, as they see it and how they want it solved.

Only once you focus on the customer will you be able to understand their problem and how your product can be the solution that they want to buy. Notice the use of the word “want” – they actually “want” to buy it. They actually ask you “please can we buy that?”.

Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?

This is the essence of marketing. It is not about pretty pictures and expensive advertising but a total, extreme obsession on the customer.

The best marketers in the world understand this and become the customers’ representative inside the business and around the boardroom table. They ask different questions. Think about it this way:

  • The CEO asks what’s best for the company.
  • The Financial Director asks if it will make a profit.
  • The HR manager asks if you have the right people.
  • The IT manager asks about hardware, software and security.
  • The Operations manager asks about production, logistics and productivity.

But who asks: Will they like it?

This is the role of the Marketing Manager, or Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

In a recent Harvard Business Review article with the title Do CMOs Really Add Value? the conclusion is: “Companies with a CMO perform 15% better, on average, than companies without one.”

Most entrepreneurs naturally ask the most practical, internally focused questions about their business or idea. They automatically ask the IT, HR, Finance and Ops questions but find it difficult to take an outside in view. They struggle to view things from the customers’ perspective. Maybe this is because the entrepreneur is so vested in their idea or business that they find it too painful to look at it from the unattached, often cold perspective of the customer. This is where a marketing consultant can play a powerful role in facilitating the process of asking the right “outside in” questions.

Next time you struggle to sell your latest idea, ask a simple question:
What problem am I solving for the customer?

Chew on this: It took the worlds greatest marketing guru, Steve Jobs, to do what the world’s greatest IT guru, Bill Gates, couldn’t: sell a computer tablet to the world.

How serious do you take marketing? How well do you know your customer?

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Image source: Business Insider

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